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One of the Greatest Female Thought Leaders is Now Empowering Women Entrepreneurs for the Future
By SABLE Staff
Larraine Segil has quietly become one of the most influential Women Thought Leaders ever to hail from South Africa – and has shaped the growth of Fortune 500 companies as one of America’s leading gurus on business alliances.
And her success also highlights – and unearths – an equally little-known family legacy of inspiration and pride which South Africans can finally celebrate: from the world’s first successful head separation of Siamese twins, to the global founding of the breast cancer “Wear It Pink” movement, to a World War I fighter pilot ace who also co-founded South Africa’s furniture industry.
Segil is a past Chair of the Committee of 200 Foundation and past Vice Chair of the Governing Board, whose member companies generate some $1.4 trillion in revenues.
Now joining the Advisory Board of the SABLE Accelerator, Segil is a former CEO and serial entrepreneur who has shared her knowledge with literally tens of thousands of US executives, and dozens of Fortune 1000 companies, over the past three decades.
And she began her American business career selling dental equipment in a telemarketing job.
Segil has since built up a resume of truly astonishing diversity: from pioneering achievements in law and healthcare to business leadership, aerospace innovation – and urban farming, in which she makes her own cheeses and chutneys.
Women entrepreneurs who have benefited from Larraine Segil Scholarships are forging pioneering careers, and, as of this year, one 9th grade Johannesburg school girl annually will be funded and guided by this global mentor.
She is also a fiction novelist and even the composer and voice artist on successful children’s music CDs.
But Segil’s extraordinary influence on America’s business leaders stems from her roles as a business lecturer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California for a quarter century; as a blue chip key note speaker; as a leader of numerous professional bodies; and as Emeritus Partner of the elite business consultancy Vantage Partners – which grew from the precepts of the iconic Bible on negotiating, “Getting to Yes.”
In an interview with SABLE, Segil says her diverse experience in law and in numerous entrepreneurial fields led directly to the broad clamor for her knowledge as an alliance consultant: “My longest period in a C-suite position was with The Lared Group and Vantage Partners, LLC – that’s where I developed my reputation. I took the executive expertise of those companies and organizations which came before, and I codified them into a methodology that I could teach to others and advise at the C-level. My teaching at Caltech, all the books; the videos and keynotes, all of that happened during the time span with Lared and Vantage.”
In addition to her work of fiction, Segil is the author of six seminal business books, including “Intelligent Business Alliances’ (Random House); ‘Fast Alliances: Power Your E-Business’ (John Wiley); ‘Dynamic Leader, Adaptive Organization (John Wiley), and ‘Partnering –The New Face of Leadership’ (A Compilation -AMACOM). Her most recent book, “Measuring the Value of Partnering,” (AMACOM 2005), was the first on Alliance Metrics.
While it’s true that Segil began her extraordinary US career from a telemarketing booth in the 1970s, her drive and work ethic have some serious roots.
Her grandfather, Harry Cohen, was a cabinetmaker in London, who joined the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, before emigrating to South Africa and establishing a pioneering bedroom furniture business. Segil says he created South Africa’s first large scale furniture factory – as well as lifestyle innovations like its first Walnut veneer – and essentially founded its first trade and bargaining organization. Cohen later helped redirect the energies of the country’s furniture factories for the benefit of Allied forces in World War II.
She says: “As a businesswoman, I was inspired by my grandfather – and I’m grateful the family has such a pedigree as adventurers and pioneers.”
In 1968, her father, Dr Jack Wolfowitz, led the second surgical team ever to successfully separate twins joined at the head, and the first conjoined females – in an historic procedure in South Africa which she says “was somewhat upstaged in the news by Chris Barnard’s heart transplant around the same time.”
Although he discouraged her from following him into medicine, Segil says her father and mother Norma helped her believe that she could achieve anything else she chose. She attended Kingsmead College in Johannesburg, as a contemporary and friend of Margaret Marshall, who would go on to become the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and the first American judge to grant gay couples the right to marry.
Segil notes: “Justice Marshall is so erudite, thoughtful and accomplished; a sterling role-model for young women in South Africa and here in the USA.”
And she, too, studied law at Wits University – only to leave South Africa, and her long LLB studies, just four months from graduation, having opted to support her new husband, orthopedic surgeon Dr Clive Segil, in their emigration to the US.
She recalls: “That was tough - Leaving my LLB so close to the finish line was a bitter pill – but it also hardened my resolve to quickly pass the bar in California.”
Studying law at night while working and also caring for her new baby son by day, Segil achieved her JD from Southwestern Law School in rapid time – “it was brutal,” she chuckles - and went on to practice as a litigator for an Los Angeles firm for two years.
Segil remains a devoted supporter (and member of the Board of Trustees) of Southwestern and has established an endowment there for female students who walk the road ‘less traveled.’
“Law wasn’t a fit for me – litigation is dissecting the past; whereas my focus is on collaborating for the future; I realized I was much more emotionally and intellectually suited to building businesses and alliances.”
Segil obtained an MBA from the Presidential Key Executive Program at Pepperdine University – “a spectacular experience; probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my education.”
Having co-founded a financial services company, Segil then joined forces with her husband in pioneering a new healthcare model - establishing one of America’s very first airport urgent care clinics, near Burbank airport.
“It was a thrill to develop the business plan for that clinic – the concept of a 24/7 airport urgent care facility was brand new. Major business nodes were growing rapidly around airports – with business parks and warehousing – and accidents happen. At the time, people needing care had to travel all the way to major medical centers for help. It was a great success, but later we realized that it had taken over our lives.”
So Segil became Co- CEO, of an advanced materials distribution company serving the global aerospace and electronics industries.
Her customers would include aerospace and electronics companies (Lockheed, Hughes) as well as the governments of many countries (France, Israel). In 1987, she founded The Lared Group, which she says was the first strategic alliances consultancy – and brought in partner Emilio Fontana. They went on to advise numerous Fortune 1000 CEOs including game changers like George Fisher, former CEO Motorola and Kodak, and Renee James, President of Intel.
Largely on the strength of Segil’s pioneering work on the methodology and metrics of collaboration, Lared was later acquired by Vantage Partners, LLC – the iconic firm founded by the Harvard co-authors of “Getting to Yes,” which sold three million copies and transformed the global mindset on effective negotiation.
All the while, she taught a course to senior executives on strategic alliances – unbroken, for 24 years – at Caltech.
Segil told SABLE that one common failing she had noted was that “Most companies tended to jump straight into negotiating a contract, before sufficient analysis of whether this is the right partnering opportunity; or whether the priority level of the alliance in terms of resource deployment is the same for the company and its potential partner; or how it would fit culturally. We helped them to create a more effective approach to partnering, sharing a process, creating metrics to measure the value of their partnering, and critically important, enabling buying and resolving conflict. Many leading companies were doing great things, but needed to create a sustainable approach for creating, managing and increasing value in alliances over time. Partners could also be customers or suppliers. Kraft, for instance, undertook a project to become a world class partner with their top suppliers.” Clients included companies such as Reuters, IBM, Microsoft, McDonalds, Disney, Chevron, Cisco, Blue Cross and Blue Shield and many more.
Meanwhile - across the Atlantic - Segil’s sister, Pamela Goldberg, was building a now globally famous movement, entitled “Wear It Pink,” as Chief Executive of Britain’s Breast Cancer Campaign. Goldberg recently received an OBE from Queen Elizabeth II – having boosted the charity’s funding from just 107 000 pounds (GBP) in 1997 to 40 million pounds when she retired in 2011.
In addition to her new scholarships for 9th grade girls at Kingsmead College in Johannesburg, Segil has established two endowments for extraordinary women professionals in the US: at Southwestern, and at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Management.
One Larraine Segil Scholar, Dr Mehrnaz Hadian, is an intensive care physician from Iran at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after obtaining her fellowship from Harvard Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston. Hadian recognized the need to earn a JD from Southwestern to understand the legal framework as an enabler to make intensive care units more efficient and responsive in the US – and Segil recognized, in Hadian, a potential pioneer.
Of her mentees in general, she has written: “The women who have earned these awards are stars in different ways – each of them has special attributes and have evidenced interest in Strategic Alliances and relationships of collaboration. They will be mentored by me for my lifetime. My mission is that their relationships and those with the two women and one high school girl each year who are added to the group in perpetuity, will outlast my lifetime as they pay it forward to each other and future generations of women leaders.”
Segil has served on a dazzling array of industry boards – starting with her selection as US representative on a 45-country international bar association of young lawyers, AIJA.
Her board experiences range from decades of service to the Cedars Sinai Medical Center and the Entrepreneurs Board for the Price Center at UCLA to the Golf 2.0 Business Women’s Council for the PGA and the WHO (World Health Organization) Tropical Diseases Special Advisory Group – and, of course, the vastly influential Committee of 200.
She has a simple maxim, which she shares with the Segil Scholars whom she mentors: “If you’re going to join an association, make it your business to lead it.”
She told SABLE: “This is not about ego – it’s about making a difference.”
Now, in the digital and social media age, Segil says “alliances are happening faster” – and that wise companies are seeking to partner with disruptive upstarts in their markets.
She said the current outreach to US-based financial technology entrepreneurs by South African financial services investment giant RMB/ RMI Holdings – profiled this week on SABLE - “is a great example of smart thinking around disruptors.”
Given her knowledge and networks, it’s fair to say that Segil could well have become a world famous business tycoon or politician today.
Instead - in selling her stake in Vantage in 2007 - she chose a balanced life, and fidelity to the same principles which triggered her legal studies sacrifice in the 1970s, and her switch away from her intensive role in healthcare, aerospace and professional services: to become a devoted grandmother; to inspire countless other innovators; and to launch yet another enterprise in a wildly different field – The Little Farm Company.
Extraordinarily, this global Thought Leader is now literally making jams and organic cheeses for local customers; yes, even the fruit chutneys which so many South Africans in the diaspora miss in the US. And she is turning this small urban farm into a mentorship opportunity for youngsters – and her unique aptitude for optimized alliances now extends to the earth itself.
For Larraine, it is a life of full circle relationships – from the pioneering spirit of her family in South Africa to her success passed on now through innovative mentoring relationships in the USA, “all based on a love of family, the environment and country.”
Larraine Segil is the CEO of Little Farm Company, Partner Emeritus at Vantage Partners, an executive education professor of 24 years at Caltech and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Southwestern School of Law. She has written five books on partnerships, including Measuring the Value of Partnering and Intelligent Business Alliances. From her vast experience, she has a firm grasp on the most effective methods of partnership development across a number of sectors.